Mary with walker

The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its ninth month, and by now, social distancing, mask wearing, and other precautionary measures are just part of our daily routines. And while we’ve all learned to adjust our lives to reduce risk, one thing remains: stress. 

The impacts of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be understated. Fears over contracting the virus, as well as uncertainty over the future, are the root cause of most stress. Also at play is anxiety over being separated from loved ones, running out of essential supplies, losing income, and the inability to care for others, such as a spouse. No matter the individual situation, everyone is affected by the unknown and may feel overwhelmed, scared, or alone.

How Stress Impacts Senior Health

Living with chronic stress can negatively impact overall health. Long-term stress can trigger many harmful physical responses, including high blood pressure, a rise in blood sugar, and an increased risk of heart attack. In fact, some researchers believe stress and anxiety can actually increase the risk of contracting COVID itself, due to its ability to suppress the immune system.

Finding Peace of Mind During the Pandemic

Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed during this time is expected and normal, but there are steps you can take to keep those feelings at manageable levels. Engaging in calming activities such as meditation and breathing exercises can help. Cumberland has a chair yoga program that allows seniors at all fitness levels to center their minds while improving their flexibility and balance. 

One psychologist recommends the SEEDS model

  • Social (forming and maintaining friendships)
  • Exercise
  • Education (learning a new skill)
  • Diet 
  • Sleep

There are also virtual calming rooms, which offer calming music, nature sounds, breathing exercises and live animal cams in one place. 

It’s also important to avoid behaviors or habits that can increase stress, such as obsessively reading or watching the news, isolating to the point of loneliness, or letting the negative thoughts and “what ifs” take over. Rather, focusing on the things that can be controlled, such as social distancing, wearing a mask, and hand washing, can lead to a sense of empowerment. Other suggestions include the following:

  • Stay in contact with loved ones. Phone calls and video chats can help keep you grounded.
  • Stay informed. Know the facts about COVID-19 but avoid social media and other non-reliable sources.
  • Keep your routine. Attend your afternoon exercise classes, take a walk around Cumberland’s campus, and proceed with your day as per usual — just do it in a safe manner.
  • If you are religious or spiritual, follow practices that provide comfort

Manage Your COVID-19 Stress with Self-Care

Fear, anxiety, grief, and worry are all normal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. These are unprecedented times, and these feelings are valid and expected. Finding the balance between accepting them while preventing them from taking over can be challenging, but necessary for overall health and well-being. Self-care goes a long way in managing stress, so it’s important to engage in activities that calm your mind and keep your body healthy.